Hard water is an issue for homeowners in many parts of the country. It is not exactly good for your health, and it may damage your pipes and fixtures too.

Contaminated water is another thing that should concern you. Not only it may taste and smell bad, but it can cause sensitivities and even cancer. There are different systems developed to soften or purify water, and in this water conditioner vs. water softener article, we aim to shed light and show you the difference between the two.

Whether you’re wondering how do water conditioner work or how can water softeners remove minerals from water, we will talk you through it so that you can take the best possible decision.

We will also show you what other water filtering options you have, in case you want to protect both your body and your pipes from the damage contaminated hard water can cause.

Our Recommended Water Conditioner System

Fleck 5600SXT 64,000 Grain Water Softener

  • For a full-scale water softener system, the Fleck system is small and compact.
  • 64,000 Grain 2.0 cubic ft of High Capacity Resin Pre Loaded in the tank
  • You will see an immediate improvement in limescale buildup in your pipes and appliances.

AO Smith Whole House Salt Free Water Descaler

  • The AO-WH-DSCLR naturally reduces scale build up in pipes and plumbing using a salt & chemical-free system.
  • Reduces scale build-up for up to 6-Years or 600,000 Gallons.
  • Perfect for households of 4 or more people

What is a Water Conditioner?

If you’re wondering what water conditioner is and how this system works, know that a water conditioner is a type of water filter developed to improve the quality of water in your home. This system doesn’t remove the minerals that make water hard, but it rather changes the composition of water to stop crystals from scaling on your pipes and fixtures.

Despite not being a real water softener, a water conditioner may be the best solution for most homes due to its low maintenance requirements, low running costs, and overall improvement of drinking water.


There are various types of water conditioners you could consider:

Carbon filtration water conditioners: Contain activated carbon that absorbs a series of chemicals dissolved in water. These water filters are particularly useful in removing organic compounds such as sulfur and chlorine from well or city water. Carbon filtration also removes foul tastes and odors, making tap water more pleasant for drinking and cooking.

Most water filter pitchers and water dispensers use carbon filtration to improve the quality of the water.

Electromagnetic water conditioners: Use either wire wrapped around the pipes or magnets placed on your tubes to create molecular agitation in water. The agitation breaks and blends the particles of carbonate salts with the water, reducing the concentration of calcium and magnesium ions in the liquid. Through this process, these water conditioners reduce scaling, although they don’t soften the water in the real sense of the word.

However, they also purify water, removing most chemical contaminants. These devices can only treat small amounts of water at a time, and water treated with such a device should be consumed

Catalytic media water conditioners: Are often referred to as salt-free water softeners. These water filters use template-assisted crystallization (TAC) to change the hardness of mineral crystals in water so that they won’t adhere to surfaces. Although they represent an excellent water conditioning system for well water, catalytic media conditioners don’t reduce the actual hardness of the liquid.

What is Water Softener?

A water softener is a water filtration system that uses the ionic exchange to remove hard minerals of calcium and magnesium from the water and replace them with ions of sodium or potassium. What you’ll get is mineral-free soft water that will not scale on your pipes and fixtures, and that is also healthy for you to drink.

Check Our Best Water Softener Reviews – (Top list In 2021)

Water softening systems usually consist of a resin bed capable of capturing hardness causing minerals and a cleaning system that purges trapped minerals, flushing them out the drain.

What is Home Water Refiner?

Although most homeowners will find themselves satisfied by using a water conditioner, if the water hardness in your area is high, you could enjoy the benefits of a home water refiner.

These systems combine the benefits of a water conditioner with those of a water softener and use a minimum of four steps to soften your water, remove foul odors and tastes, kill germs, and filter sediment in the water.

Water Conditioner vs. Water Softener: How Do They Compare?

While both water conditioners and water softeners are used to improve the quality of the water, they are significantly different. To understand which system is right for you, compare your needs against the three criteria below.

Water Quality

The main difference between water conditioners vs. water softeners is the quality of water. Water softeners do not filter well or tap water, they are only responsible for exchanging water hardening ions with sodium ions.

Water conditioners, on the other hand, filter water and remove impurities, but they don’t remove water hardening minerals such as calcium and magnesium.

Because the two systems have little in common, you should pick the right one for your home based on your intentions.

If you only want to reduce water hardness and have no concerns regarding water quality, then a water softener is your best bet.

If you’re more concerned about water quality than hardness, then a water conditioner is a more appropriate device. This system focuses on contaminants rather than hardness, removing chlorine, fluorine, sulfur, carcinogenic disinfectant byproducts, pesticides, herbicides, and other harmful chemicals from your drinking and cooking water.

From all chemicals, chlorine is perhaps the most harmful contaminant in tap water because it is used as a disinfectant by the municipalities. Besides its dangerous effects, chlorine can also deposit and corrode your pipes, causing leaks.

If you are concerned about both hardness and contaminants in water, then a home water refiner is the best solution. They are slightly more expensive than water conditioners and water softeners, but they combine the benefits of both devices to give you clean and soft drinking water.

Running Costs and Maintenance ​

Besides the upfront costs of buying a water filter, you must also consider the running costs and maintain your preferred system requires.

Water conditioners are the cheapest to run because they rely on water pressure alone to function. Tap water flowing through them pushes the contaminants against the filters, which at their turn, absorb them.

These systems don’t use electricity and don’t produce wastewater, so you’ll save money on both your energy and water bills.

Maintenance is also easy. You will only have to change the filters annually, or sooner if you exceed the recommended volume. However, the system doesn’t require any other type of maintenance. Water conditioners are also rather compact, occupying a little space either on your countertop or under the sink.

Water softeners are responsible for producing the ion exchange in water, and for doing this, they require electricity. These systems also use salt to enrich your stream with sodium ions, which means you’ll have to replace cartridges regularly.

In other words, water softeners are more expensive to run and need more maintenance. Add things up, and you can easily reach $200 per year in terms of running costs.

Water softeners are also notorious for wasting water during the softening process, which means a higher water bill too.

Not only you’ll pay more, but research has also shown that wastewater produced by water softeners may affect the quality of all water supply in your area.

Some cities in California have even banned the use of salt-based water softeners. If you live in such an area but still want to soften your water, you might have to use a salt-free water softener.

Lastly, home water refiners may or may not use electricity depending on the system, but they are cheaper to run than water softeners.

However, they may need more maintenance, produce some wastewater, and are typically bulkier than the softeners or conditioners.


Perhaps the essential aspect you’ll consider when buying a water filtering system is its price. Taking advantage of people’s ingenuity, many companies justify ridiculous costs with claims that they’ll get you the purest water.

But what is a water softener vs. a water conditioner price?

In broad terms, water softeners are much more expensive than water conditioners. The latter may cost a few tens or dozens of bucks, while the former is usually priced in the hundred range or above.

The price of a water refiner may vary widely based on the technologies involved, and it’s usually easy to find systems in all price ranges.


Wondering which is the water conditioner vs. water softener outcome? Since we are talking about two very different products, it’s hard to say which is better. Each one can serve its purpose successfully, and you should decide which one to get based on your needs.

If you’re concerned about the overall quality of tap or well water, then getting a water conditioning system for well water or tap water is your best bet. If you are already using pure water, but you’re concerned about scale-forming minerals, you need a water softener.

Regardless of what system you need, the market is full of choices. You can get a standard, electromagnetic, or electronic water conditioner, or choose from an array of water softeners the one that best suits your needs.

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